Like millions of others around the U.S., on April 5, 2020, I put on a homemade mask and headed out to the grocery store to get some essential goods. This trip was just days after the governor called on all citizens of Pennsylvania to wear a face covering when leaving home.
As I pulled in the parking lot and got out of my car, my stomach dropped with an unfamiliar feeling — fear.
For most of my life, ownership of my Asian American identity has been sub-par. Being fully assimilated culturally, I distanced myself, both inadvertently and deliberately, from my racial label out of fear it would stereotypically define me.
Growing up in a white adoptive family and a demographically and culturally white town, it has been a confusing journey to understand my place and level of privilege in society.
While Asians and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are people of color (POC), many don’t feel we are mistreated since we generally don’t face the same glaring oppression as other minority groups. There’s an overarching fallacy that Asians are “almost white,” so therefore accepted as equal in America. Not being flagrantly hated, however, does not mean we are treated the same as white people.
Oppression is nuanced. The enduring racism and biases against those who are or look “different” are deeply embedded in the fabric of our society – Asians hold no exception.
I’ve faced instances of racism and countless microaggressions in my life – off handed comments, distasteful jokes, ignorant assumptions.
I’m well aware of my race. But it wasn’t until the Coronavirus pandemic that I was ever AFRAID – afraid to be Asian.
The first time I heard about coronavirus was in early February 2020. People didn’t know that much about it – only that it started in China, allegedly from a bat. The severity was still being questioned, and since it was not yet in America, many still thought it to be a joke (or dare I say, a hoax).
I was out with some friends at a rooftop bar. We were talking to some random boys that were trying (and failing) to flirt. The coronavirus came up in conversation. This is when one of the boys asked me, “Why do they eat bats there?”
He probably didn’t mean it maliciously, I thought. This type of microaggression isn’t new. So I laughed off his ignorant inquiry. – Coronavirus Racist Personal Incident #1.
As the virus spread throughout Asia and Europe, the talk about coronavirus obviously increased. I wasn’t scared though. Knowing it started in China really didn’t mean anything to me. It wasn’t the citizens of China’s fault, so I didn’t place blame. And I didn’t judge. Naïvely, I didn’t think others would either.
Around the same time, some friends and I were making dinner plans. At one point, Korea-town was suggested. “I’m not sure, it might not be a good time to eat in that area, you know, because of everything going on,” someone said.
Another friend in the conversation looked at me with a knowing smile and said, “I mean, just because it started there doesn’t make a difference for specific types of restaurants here.”
I didn’t say anything. We didn’t go to eat in Koreatown. – Coronavirus Racist Personal Incident #2.
If this happened in my liberal circle of friends, I feared for what was to come.
Asian restaurants started to feel the repercussions of racism and ignorance. The idea that Chinese food was “more dangerous” to consume than Italian or French cuisine had zero logic – but it’s truly what some people believed.
The public’s condemnation of a culture for what they eat really didn’t sit well with me – why couldn’t people understand that “different” is not synonymous with “wrong.”
Being adopted, I have always been extremely aware that so much of who I am stems from the family that I was adopted into. I don’t eat spicy food because my dad hates spicy food. I love cheese-balls because my mom always got them as a snack. I drink skim milk because that’s what we always had in the house.
So, as I was raised, I wouldn’t eat a bat. But if I stayed in China, maybe I would?
Before the official shutdown, I decided to go home to be with my family. I joked with a friend on the way to the airport, “lol should I pretend to cough to see who’s racist?”
I made light of my fears, but on the flight, I didn’t wear a mask. I didn’t want to be labeled as a “foreigner” or expose myself to potential intolerance.
On a typical day, I don’t usually think about my race too much, probably because of my upbringing. But during Covid-19 things are different.
The everyday racialized experience is less about being the target of racism, but the anticipation, anxiety and paranoia of it.
Normally it’s thoughts like: does he not think I’m cute because I’m not blonde and blue-eyed? During covid it’s: Did they step away because of my race? Was that a dirty look? Why are they looking at me?
The first time I went out in public in a mask, I was scared. Every time after, I was scared.
I LITERALLY felt my race. Hyper-aware of my actions:
- don’t sneeze.
- don’t cough.
- look friendly.
I have never been so acutely aware that I was not white.
I think it is important to clarify that prior to this I have felt paranoia of discrimination, but never in a way that created a present danger. I don’t want to glaze over the fact that other minority groups often experience racial profiling fears like this every single day. This exemplifies how even as a minority in America, I am privileged.
This was amplified, when the President chose to call it the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus” and “China Virus.” On a global stage, he placed a direct target on a group of people.
The rhetoric chosen was not an accident.
If Trump’s previous language and policies do not prove his feelings about “foreigners,” he made it abundantly clear by targeting an Asian American reporter and crossing out the scientific name to instead label the virus with an ethnicity.
His words fueled an insurgence of xenophobia, racism and violence towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Viruses don’t have nationalities or ethnicities. These chosen words hold power and present a clear danger to myself and American citizens who look like me.
The acceptance or complacency toward this rhetoric by other leaders and the perpetuation by fellow Americans is not only extremely hurtful, but actually harmful.
Coronavirus Racist Personal Incident #3 didn’t happen. At least not yet.
But people shouldn’t need to hear a personal story of violence or blatant discrimination against someone to validate an issue.
Throughout the pandemic, I (thankfully) haven’t been on the receiving end of one of the more than 1,700 individual hate crimes against Asian Americans. But I consistently live in fear that I could be next.
The spikes of hostility, violence and resentment towards AAPI around the nation have pulled back the curtain – demystifying the idea of “colorblindness” or that Asians are seen as equal.
It solidified that Asians’ existence and acceptance in this country is conditional.
Being an Asian-American through all of this has had me feeling A LOT of feelings: Anger. Empowerment. Guilt. Support. Sadness. Fear.
But it has also brought me a newfound pride – in my heritage, its culture and community.
The criticism of Asian culture and ignorant assumptions about the people living there, I can’t help but take personal offense.
That is where I come from.
Those are my people.
The situation is especially difficult due to the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government. I’m not claiming to support or defend the Chinese government’s actions – but criticism isn’t an excuse for hate.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to be critical, but understand that it’s not the fault of AAPI.
If you are reading this thinking something like: “that language wasn’t racist,” “the virus was found in China so it’s Chinese” or “she is being sensitive” … I implore you to try to resist immediately becoming defensive.
Avoid dismissing others’ feelings or creating an “us vs them” mentality. Take a beat to reflect on why YOUR identity, privilege and socialization may cause your view to be that way.
Everyone has a role to play in combating xenophobia. Not only do minority communities need allies, but we need active ones.
As discussion inevitably arises around China, its transparency and handling of the virus, let us remember:
It is possible to be critical of the decisions and policy made by another nation’s government without being racist.
This pandemic will continue to press on, and with the upcoming election, the “tough on China” platforms will become even more prominent. Please have the respect to take a moment to be aware of your words, actions and their impacts. Especially, but not limited to, when you are the President of the United States.
Simple actions like adjusting your language and being cognizant of your actions will help support our AAPI communities and not isolate us further.
Original Source: This article is from the website “Shit You Should Care About”. You can check out this article and more like it on the link below.
Link to Original Article: https://shityoushouldcareabout.com/home/2020/6/8/being-an-asian-american-in-trumps-covid-19-pandemic?fbclid=IwAR05iR2CLd9qfs6fW9C4a30_lErhuZ9UlmHtXq1W2LSYL7la0GUILNqZzdw
Annie Wu Henry
Annie is a social media expert working full time in digital strategy in Southern California. While doing freelance journalism on the side, she also low-key aspires to be the next Christina Yang. As a millennial who is “extremely online,” she is always searching for the next viral meme, witty twitter quote or corny pun to use as an Instagram caption. She has a passion for politics, pop culture, pressed coffee and people who do the right thing. Inquiries and pictures of puppies can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org or @annie_wu_22 on all socials.